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Does competition enhance performance or cheating? A laboratory experiment

  • Christiane Schwieren

    (University of Heidelberg)

  • Doris Weichselbaumer

In this paper we experimentally test whether competing for a desired reward does not only affect individuals’ performance, but also their tendency to cheat. Recent doping scandals in sports as well as forgery and plagiarism scandals in academia have been partially explained by „competitive pressures“, which suggests a link between competition and cheating. In our experiment subjects conduct a task where they have the possibility to make use of illegitimate tools to better their results. We find that women react much stronger to competitive pressure by increasing their cheating activity while there is no overall sex difference in cheating. However, the effect of competition on women’s cheating behavior is entirely due to the fact that women, on average, are doing worse with respect to the assigned task. Indeed we find that it is the ability of an individual to conduct a particular task and not sex that crucially affects the reaction to competition. Poor performers significantly increase their cheating behavior under competition which may be a face-saving strategy or an attempt to retain a chance of winning.

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Paper provided by The Austrian Center for Labor Economics and the Analysis of the Welfare State, Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria in its series NRN working papers with number 2008-05.

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Length: 29 pages
Date of creation: Dec 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:jku:nrnwps:2008_05
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  1. Aldo Rustichini & Uri Gneezy, 2004. "Gender and competition at a young age," Framed Field Experiments 00151, The Field Experiments Website.
  2. Benno Torgler & Neven T. Valev, 2006. "Women and Illegal Activities: Gender Differences and Women?s Willingness to Comply over Time," CREMA Working Paper Series 2006-15, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
  3. Jeffrey Carpenter & Peter Hans Matthews & John Schirm, 2007. "TOURNAMENTS AND OFFICE POLITICS: Evidence from a real effort experiment," Middlebury College Working Paper Series 0709, Middlebury College, Department of Economics.
  4. Andrei Shleifer, 2004. "Does Competition Destroy Ethical Behavior?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 414-418, May.
  5. Brandts Jordi & Riedl Arno & Winden Frans van, 2005. "Competition and Well-Being," Research Memorandum 033, Maastricht University, Maastricht Research School of Economics of Technology and Organization (METEOR).
  6. Marie-Claire Villeval & Nabanita Datta Gupta & Anders Poulsen, 2005. "Male and Female Competitive Behavior - Experimental Evidence," Working Papers 0512, Groupe d'Analyse et de Théorie Economique (GATE), Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Université Lyon 2, Ecole Normale Supérieure.
  7. Ian Preston, 2003. "Cheating in Contests," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 19(4), pages 612-624, Winter.
  8. Joseph Price, 2008. "Gender Differences in the Response to Competition," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 61(3), pages 320-333, April.
  9. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2005. "Do Women Shy Away From Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?," NBER Working Papers 11474, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Antonio Cabrales & Gary Charness & Marie-Claire Villeval, 2006. "Competition, Hidden Information, and Efficiency: an Experiment," Working Papers 0605, Groupe d'Analyse et de Théorie Economique (GATE), Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Université Lyon 2, Ecole Normale Supérieure.
  11. Vandegrift, Donald & Yavas, Abdullah, 2009. "Men, women, and competition: An experimental test of behavior," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 72(1), pages 554-570, October.
  12. Antonovics, Kate & Arcidiacono, Peter & Walsh, Randall, 2003. "Competing Against the Opposite Sex," University of California at San Diego, Economics Working Paper Series qt0kx2f7xq, Department of Economics, UC San Diego.
  13. Martin, Ben R., 2007. "Keeping plagiarism at bay--A salutary tale," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(7), pages 905-911, September.
  14. Gary S. Becker, 1968. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 76, pages 169.
  15. Christine Harbring & Bernd Irlenbusch & Matthias Kräkel & Reinhard Selten, 2004. "Sabotage in Asymmetric Contests – An Experimental Analysis," Bonn Econ Discussion Papers bgse12_2004, University of Bonn, Germany.
  16. Harbring, Christine & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2008. "How many winners are good to have?: On tournaments with sabotage," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 65(3-4), pages 682-702, March.
  17. Günther, Christina & Ekinci, Neslihan Arslan & Schwieren, Christiane & Strobel, Martin, 2010. "Women can't jump?--An experiment on competitive attitudes and stereotype threat," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 75(3), pages 395-401, September.
  18. Harbring, Christine & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2005. "How Many Winners Are Good to Have? On Tournaments with Sabotage," IZA Discussion Papers 1777, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  19. Gary A. Hoover, 2004. "Whose Line Is It? Plagiarism in Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(2), pages 487-493, June.
  20. Joe Kerkvliet & Charles L. Sigmund, 1999. "Can We Control Cheating in the Classroom?," The Journal of Economic Education, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 30(4), pages 331-343, December.
  21. Daniel S. Nagin & James B. Rebitzer & Seth Sanders & Lowell J. Taylor, 2002. "Monitoring, Motivation, and Management: The Determinants of Opportunistic Behavior in a Field Experiment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(4), pages 850-873, September.
  22. Joseph Price, 2008. "Gender Differences in the Response to Competition," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 61(3), pages 320-333, April.
  23. Uri Gneezy & Muriel Niederle & Aldo Rustichini, 2003. "Performance In Competitive Environments: Gender Differences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(3), pages 1049-1074, August.
  24. List, John A, et al, 2001. "Academic Economists Behaving Badly? A Survey on Three Areas of Unethical Behavior," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(1), pages 162-70, January.
  25. Nabanita Datta Gupta & Anders Poulsen & Marie-Claire Villeval, 2005. "Male and Female Competitive Behavior: Experimental," Post-Print halshs-00175039, HAL.
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